Thursday, June 18, 2009

Fathers play vital role in families, society

Archbishop John Nienstedt: A recent visit by two representatives from our local St. Vincent de Paul Society brought back memories from my childhood. These memories involve accompanying my dad as he delivered food baskets before the Thanksgiving holiday to families in need.

My father happened to be the president of the parish St. Vincent de Paul Society that year and, for me, he led by example. I never used to think that the influence my father had on me was so extraordinary — but now I realize how much it was!

Recreating fatherhood

One in two children in today’s society grow up without a father. This means that half of the next generation are growing up deprived of the psychological, social, educational and moral influence that a father offers to his children.

In his celebrated work, “Fatherless America: Confronting Our Most Urgent Social Problem,” David Blankenhorn argues that the most urgent challenge facing the United States today is the need to recreate fatherhood as a vital, social role for men. He writes:

“At stake is nothing less than the success of the American experiment. For unless we reverse the trend of fatherlessness, no other set of accomplishments — not economic growth or prison construction or welfare reform or better schools — will succeed in arresting the decline of child well-being and the spread of male violence. To tolerate the trend of fatherlessness is to accept the inevitability of continued societal recession” (p. 222).

Blankenhorn goes on to argue that the key to reversing this trend is two-fold: 1) to change the present “divorce culture” into a culture that supports and promotes the essential role of the father in marriage; and 2) to reclaim the inherent connection between fatherhood and masculinity, which is to say, the proof of manhood lies in being a good father. As Blankenhorn contends:

“. . . A good father is not simply a man who performs certain tasks for his children. He is a man who lives a certain kind of life. He is upright. He sets a good example. He has a high moral character. He shows his love through his actions” (p. 209).

A priest is called “Father” for a reason. While he is not called by God to beget life in a biological way, he is ordained to beget life in a spiritual way. Thus, in a very real and vital way, a priest serves as the head of the parish family, assuming responsibility for the spiritual and moral well-being of those assigned to his care.

To be effective at this, the priest must be a good lover, again not in the physical sense, but in a selfless and dedicated way. In this way, the priest proves himself to be “a man for others.”

I have recently read about a program being sponsored in some dioceses called “That Man is You!” It seeks to help men find their masculinity in being a man of God and a man for others. Information on the program can be found on the Internet at

As we celebrate Father’s Day this weekend, I encourage all of us to discuss the vital role that fatherhood has for the family as well as for society-at-large. And let us pray for the renewal of fatherhood in our church and throughout the world.

Yes, I am grateful for the memory of doing the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society with my own father. I certainly gained more from the experience than I gave.

A blessed Father’s Day to all!

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